How to Perform an Office Task Ergonomics Hazard Assessment

Date First Published on SafetySmart Compliance: February 21st, 2012
Topics: Ergonomics |

There is no OSHA ergonomics standard. But as with other hazards, a hazard assessment is integral to controlling ergonomic risks at the workplace. Here’s a look at the role of hazard assessment and how to perform an ergonomic assessment in office settings.

Click here for a Hazard Assessment Checklist for Workstations.

The Obligation to Conduct Hazard Assessment

There is no OSHA standard for ergonomics. However, the so called general duty clause—Sec. 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act—which requires employers to prevent “known hazards”—could be interpreted as covering ergonomic hazards. In addition, OSHA has issued guidelines for employers on managing ergonomic hazards. Hazard assessment is an essential element of each of these guidelines (see, for example, OSHA Guidelines for Shipyards).

Hazard assessment is task-based in the sense that it looks at the jobs to be performed. The hazard assessment’s role is to identify the hazards associated with particular jobs and recommend measures required to protect employees against those hazards.

The assessments should be developed with the assistance of the employees who are performing the task as they know the task better than anyone else. Once the hazard assessment has been completed and certified, it can be used as a training tool during safety training.

Like other hazards, ergonomic dangers vary depending on the nature of the workplace setting. Broadly speaking, there are 2 basic settings and, accordingly, 2 forms of ergonomic hazard assessment: office and industrial. Let’s look at the former.

Ergonomic Hazard Assessments in Office Settings

Office environments have a reputation for containing ergonomic hazards.  Think of some of the actions you and your employees do all day in an office:

•           Moving and picking up packages of paper for the copy machine;

•           Sitting all day in a size two chair;

•           Squinting at the computer screen; and

•           Typing on an ill-fitting keyboard.

An ergonomic evaluation looks at the employee’s office set up and makes modifications to ensure that the workstation fits the employee and not having to have the employee conform to the workstation.

Using a checklist is a good way to get started.  OSHA proposed an ergonomic standard back in 2000, one of the appendices was a check list on Visual Display Terminals (VDT) and their set up.

The proposed OSHA ergonomics standard sets out the factors an ergonomics hazard assessment of office workstations should consider, including:

Working Conditions consider the physical posture and positions of the head, neck, trunk, limbs, shoulders, feet and hands of employees in the workstation.

Seating addresses the chair and its components such as back and arm rests.

Keyboard/Input Device considers the location of the keyboard and employees’ hands and wrists while using it.

Monitor addresses issues like whether employees have to strain their neck or bend forward to read the screen.

Work Area looks at the configuration and spacing of the work area, chairs, desks and equipment.

Accessories look at things like phones and wrist rests.